Who do you think you are? (John 8: 31-59)

  1. Who do you think you are? Is a TV show where celebrities trace back their family tree in the hope that their forefathers will have been related to royalty. To their embarrassment, half the time they discover that their ancestors were semi-literate convicts.

Who do you think you are? What makes you who you are? Is it …





Identity matters. We all want to know who we are.  What makes us distinct, what makes us special (if anything). What value do we have. It’s one of the reasons we celebrate things like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day because when answering that question -family matters. It’s one of the reasons that if you haven’t got a good relationship with your dad that it hurts because we naturally look to our dad’s for praise and affirmation.

So, here’s a Bible passage all about family trees, dads and identity.

  1. Children or slaves? What do you need to let go of?

If you’re familiar with the words of Rule Britannia, this feels a bit like the Jewish equivalent. “Israelites never shall be slaves”

Jesus is talking to Jews who believe in him. We are not sure to what extent they’ve grasped everything but they are at least beginning to respond to his teaching and his miracles(v31). He tells them what it means to be a true believer/disciple (v31).

His instruction is to “Remain in my word.” In 15:4 he will say “Remain in me” and I think these two phrases go closely together. It’s a call to stick close to him, to trust him, to listen to him, to obey him.  If we do this, then Jesus says that this is the secret of true  freedom

This provokes an angry response from the Jews (v32-33). Their argument is:

–        We are true sons of Abraham

–        We have never been slaves

We can note two things about the Jews’ response to Jesus

–        This is orthodox belief. It isn’t salvation by works. Their identity is based on their connection to Abraham. It’s credited/imputed to them in some way. They are chosen.

–        The important thing is that in effect they are saying “We don’t need you” to Jesus.

What do you need to let go of?

Slavery is about those things which I hold on to and which have a hold on me which cause me to believe that I don’t need Jesus. Slavery and idolatry go together. It’s about the things that give me false confidence/assurance. I need them more than I need Jesus.

This can be our religion. It was for the people Jesus was speaking to. We find ourselves thinking “I’ve always been coming to this church.” “I’ve never missed a prayer meeting.” “I’ve got a job, a ministry.” Religion tends to be hereditary: “My grandparents came here and their parents before them.” We trust in our good deeds or the good deeds of others. But the Bible says that no-one is good.

It can be habits and addictions. These are often accompanied by guilt and shame. If anyone else knew what I struggled with then they would not want to know me. Habits tell us that they will give me the sense of happiness, meaning, identity I need.

Hand in hand with my own guilt comes shame. There’s a good chance that some of us will be struggling not just with our own failings but with what others have done to us. Sadly in any congregation there’s a high likelihood that someone has suffered abuse. You are still held captive and you’ve learnt to believe that no-one, not even God could love you now. That’s exactly why you immerse yourself in your habits and addictions.

There is good news. It’s not down to you even to let go. Jesus has come to break the chains of the captives and to set you free.

  1. Family likeness – What does your life tell you about where you are

Sons tend to be like their fathers. You can quickly tell if I’m in the same room as my dad that I’m related to him.  It’s not just about looks either is it. Children will often share similar humour, interests and hobbies. My dad spent his whole working life taking pride and joy in making toffee and chocolate and I took great joy in eating it.

A big theme of John’s is the good news that we can be part of God’s family. We can call him “Our father.” We can be children – in fact we can be ‘sons’ with all the privileges of heirs.

How do you know if you are sons or slaves and whose sons you are?

Well Jesus says that the people in front of him are slaves to sin. This is show by the sin that they are doing.  This also means that they are not true sons of Abraham (v34-39). They may belong to the same blood line but they lack the family characteristics of faith and obedience. Abraham would have known, trusted and obeyed Jesus. Indeed, there is the sense that even in his own time, he did because he believed God’s promise to him.

So whose sons were they?

–        Sin as lies and murder marks them out as children of Satan not God (v40-44)

–        Sin as unbelief marks them out – Abraham believed and rejoiced (v56)

What does your own life tell you about your relationship to God

The reality is that we are all sinners. We’ve talked about those thoughts, words and deeds, those habits.  The Bible tells us that obeying God means loving him with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves. Deep down you and I know that we fail at that. We fail to give our whole lives over to God. We love ourselves more. We fail to even love our neighbours. We find that even the people we love the most are the very ones we hurt the most.

We carry guilt and shame. The temptation with that is to run and to hide. We hide our guilt and shame deep in our lives because we think no-one can see it but that’s the very place where it continues to do damage. We build walls around ourselves to stop others coming in. We put on faces so no-one will get to know the truth about us.  The result is we are left alone, ashamed, guilty, slaves to our sin.

We may try to use religion or self-help books to sort things out. None of that works.

What is the answer? The clue is in what Abraham did. It’s belief that you need. You see, you can’t turn yourself from a slave into a son. You could trip me up outside the door and when no-one is looking nick my glasses and my shirt of my back, tie me up in some back room, put my glasses and short on then come back in the room pretending to be me.  You wouldn’t -and I think people would be able to tell fairly quickly!

The Bible says that salvation and that welcome into God’s family is a free gift. It’s all about God’s grace.

  1. How can I be part of the family

God acts in Christ. It is his free gift to us.  There are two metaphors to help us understand this. The first is Adoption. The Bible says that God adopts us into his family. He chooses to call us “sons”.

The other is Marriage .  Martin Luther used the image of a wealthy prince who meets a beggar girl.  She is penniless. In fact, she is up to her eyeballs in debt she cannot pay off. He loves her and asks her to marry him. They both bring everything into the marriage. They become one flesh. All that he owns is hers and all that she owns is his. He brings his wealth, she brings her rags and debts. The debts are of course paid off and the rags replaced with beautiful new clothes.

We are united to Christ when we become Christians. We bring our sin and our shame like filthy rags. He brings all the riches of grace, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, eternal life, hope. This happened at Calvary.

Jesus was stripped and shamed so that we could be clothed in righteousness

Jesus was punished even though innocent so we could be forgiven our guilt

Jesus died so that we could live forever with him.


Are you at the point of recognising this is what you need? At Calvary, Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One recognised that they needed everything Christ had to offer. Would you join with him in asking Jesus to give you the forgiveness, righteousness, eternal life you need?

I take comfort in the hope
of the thief upon the cross
For I am worthy of as little love as he.
Like this man, I won’t despair
for life’s ahead, what joy we’ll share
now there is grace awaiting me, awaiting me!